By David Isaac
History is supposedly written by the victors. Israel appears to be the exception. For some inexplicable reason, Israeli historians have whitewashed the role of Britain’s betrayal of the Jews.
Britain, which had promised to help the Jews build a national home, almost immediately began to retreat from its promise, doing everything it could to undermine Jewish national aspirations.
A new book (in Hebrew) attempts to set the record straight. The British Trojan Horse in Israel’s War of Independence by Ezra Neshri details Britain’s attempts to quash the Zionist project.
As a recent review of the book in Makor Rishon, an Israeli weekly, noted, “In the decades since the Balfour Declaration until the establishment of the state, the British worked intentionally to torpedo Zionist efforts, to strengthen its Arab enemies and to erase the of the idea of a Jewish home and a State of the Jews.”
This is in contrast to what the reviewer, Havezelet Farber, says Israeli schoolchildren have been taught for decades thanks to Israeli historians who have pushed the line that the British had a positive attitude toward, or at least had come to terms with, a Jewish State.
Farber says the book’s author, Neshri, explodes this distortion of history. While Britain’s behavior in the 1920s and 30s is better known, the author reveals that after the Second World War, Britain’s goal was to establish itself as a third world power alongside the U.S. and the Soviet Union. Its colonial holdings were to play an important part. However, “an independent Jewish State was seen as a central danger to ensuring British dominance in the Middle East,” Neshri writes.
Neshri says the British pushed the Arabs to attack, that, in fact, Jordan’s Abdullah wanted to come to an agreement with Israel and the Egyptians, Iraqis and Saudis were at first hesitant to go to war. But the British encouraged nationalist ferment in these states and sent hundreds of trucks loaded with advanced weapons to sweeten the deal.
British Foreign Minister Ernest “Bevin promised to equip two Iraqi divisions intended to be sent to the eastern Jordan in order to invade Palestine,” he writes.
Israel’s future prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, was aware of what the British were up to. He wrote in June 1947: of a “Arab-British symbiosis against the Yishuv [the Jewish settlement project].”
In March 1948, Ben-Gurion wrote to Moshe Sharett, “The plot is clear… to permit our [Arab] neighbors… to enter into the Land [of Israel] armies in sufficient amounts to destroy the Yishuv and to capture the Land after the Mandate is cancelled… This is the joint plot between the British Foreign Office and the Arab League…”
The British failed in their efforts, largely thanks to the resourcefulness and fighting spirit of the Israeli Army. But they did incalculable damage in the Middle East. Their attempts to undermine the Jewish national project helped to ensure the Arabs would never come to terms with Israel’s right to exist peacefully in the region.
It’s painful to think that Israeli schoolchildren have been taught untruths about their own history. It demonstrates the importance of knowing Zionist history and of sites like ZionismU.
For an accurate depiction of Britain’s actions in pre-state days, watch our series on the British Mandate.
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